A Simulation in Global Development: Guest Post from Dr. Kevin Pallister

Guest Contributor Dr. Kevin Pallister of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth joins us today to introduce his new negotiation simulation, recently published in PS: Political Science & Politics (April 2015). Dr. Pallister can be reached at kpallister@umassd.edu and is willing to share all of his simulation materials upon request.

Dr. Kevin Pallister — U-Mass, Dartmouth

Teaching undergraduate students about international financial institutions and issues of economic development can be challenging, especially in an introductory political science class with lots of non-polisci majors. Teaching a large (90-student) introductory international relations class a couple of years ago, I thought of how best to help my students learn about economic globalization and development. This led me to develop a negotiation-based simulation to teach students about the conflicts of interest and potential for cooperation on issues of international economic globalization and development. This was the first time I designed a simulation, and only the second time I had run a simulation in the classroom (after earlier in the course running G. Dale Thomas’ excellent “Isle of Ted” simulation).

This simulation is designed to teach students a number of key concepts in the areas of IPE, globalization and development, such as the role of power, collective action problems, bargaining tactics, and naming and shaming efforts of NGOs.

Students were introduced to some of the key themes in readings and lecture before the simulation took place. The simulation lasted two 75-minute class meetings, though it could be done with less time (especially with a smaller class). Students were assigned to one of 15 teams, with one team representing NGOs, another team representing the media, and each of the other teams representing a country (including a mix of developed, middle income, and less developed countries). Each student assigned to a country also had a particular role: diplomat, president/prime minister, legislator, trade representative, and labor minister. Each team received fairly detailed instructions on their roles and interests (available on request from the author).

The task for students was to reach an international agreement on global economic rules that promote development of the world’s poorest countries while protecting the interests of developed countries. There were five issues on the agenda: 1) agricultural subsidies in developed countries; 2) developing countries’ ability to protect infant industries and subsidize export industries; 3) the distribution of voting rights in the IMF; 4) levels of foreign aid from developed countries to developing countries; and 5) establishment of universal minimum labor standards. Students were given carte blanche to devise any negotiated agreement on any combination of these issues.

Each country sent their diplomat to an international conference (located at the front of the classroom), where the main negotiations took place. An undergraduate teaching assistant chaired the conference. To reach an agreement, a two-thirds vote of diplomats at the conference was needed, followed by a majority vote in two-thirds of the states for ratification.

While the diplomats negotiated, other students could listen in on the negotiations (and could talk with their diplomats), conduct negotiations with their counterparts in other states outside of the conference, and talk with members of the NGO and media teams, which were tasked with collecting information and (in the case of NGOs) advocating particular policies. Conference negotiations were periodically interrupted so that diplomats could return to consult with their teams and so the media and NGO teams could give brief addresses to the entire class.

At the conclusion of the simulation, I conducted an oral debriefing, which is essential to any simulation. My questions included: How were you able to achieve consensus? What were the obstacles to creating a set of policies that everyone could agree to? Who “won” the negotiations? Who lost? In what ways did the simulation diverge from reality, and in what ways was it similar to the real world?

I have only conducted the simulation once, but there were several interesting outcomes. For one, students tended to form informal negotiating blocs outside of the conference area, especially developed versus developing countries. Also, the agreement that was reached in the negotiations was much more favorable to developing countries than are the existing international trade and finance regimes.

In the future I hope to repeat the simulation while taking some steps to better engage the students who do not play the role of diplomat – maybe by requiring teams to do their own background research on their country, or by assigning a written debriefing, or better yet making the diplomats subject to firing and replacement by their countrymen.